Trade union and business federations have not been banned in Swaziland, but they are illegal, according to Winnie Magagula, the kingdom’s Minister of Labour and Social Security.
Her statement has led to confusion in the kingdom and condemnation from trade unions and pro-democracy organisations across the world.
On 8 October 2014 Magagula called a press conference and without first informing the organisations concerned announced that the Swazi Government would not recognise the Trade Union Congress of Swaziland (TUCOSWA), Federation of Swaziland Employers and Chamber of Commerce (FSE&CC), Federation of the Swazi Business Community (FESBC) and the Amalgamated Trade Unions of Swaziland (ATUSWA).
Local media reported Magagula saying, ‘All federations are non-existent in terms of the Industrial Relations Act and should stop operating immediately until the amendment of the Industrial Relations Act has been passed by Parliament.’
She added the amendment would outline the qualification or criteria for eligibility to be registered as a federation.
The Government of King Mswati III, who rules Swaziland as sub-Saharan Africa’s last absolute monarch, has been in conflict with the trades unions in the kingdom for many years. It has failed to properly recognise the legitimacy of TUCOSWA and this is one of the reasons Swaziland has been expelled from membership of the lucrative African Growth Opportunities Act (AGOA) that allows goods from the kingdom to be imported into the United States tariff free.
The announcement that TUCOSWA was banned was criticised across the world, by organisations including Freedom House, the Trades Union Congress, UK, the International Trade Union Confederation and the Congress of South African Trade Unions.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) said the ban was disappointing and of great concern.
‘The role of employer and trade union federations is important in any developing economy and they play a key role in not only representing their members but also providing input into the labour market debates,’ it said in a statement.
Following the outcry, Magagula, defended her action and said the federations had not been banned.
She said, ‘We did not ban anyone, we only issued a statement that stopped them from partaking in our activities, where they would sit and engage government on a number of issues touching on the general welfare of workers. The federations are unlawful and do not exist according to the Act, however, they do exist outside the legislation.’